Scaling the Climes of Pop
It’s possible to listen to Everest and hear nothing more than a very upbeat, largely forgettable pop album. First Rate People have only themselves to blame for that-– it’s their own fault for making it so damn catchy-– but semi-hidden depths abound. Even a quick listen was enough to leave us intrigued and scurrying for the repeat button.
Surprise is what lies at the heart (or sits on top) of Everest. First Rate People create expectations, and then gleefully step all over them. Much of this versatility comes thanks to an extended roster of artists; the band has decreased in number from a peak collection of thirty, but there are still plenty of new voices, instruments and ideas to throw into the mix. Take album opener “Dark Age,” for example. You’d be forgiven for hearing only the first few seconds before switching to something that doesn’t sound like a Coldplay knock-off. But wait for half a minute, and you’ll find the song dissolving into sunsplashed pop and, a couple minute after that, a slow-build harmony.
And then, once you’ve pegged First Rate People as a non-rerun, it takes another couple of minutes to figure out what they’re singing about. Everest is unavoidably a record of loss. Lost time, lost love, lost memories… nostalgia and regret saturate every song. This often comes through strictly as innuendo. There’s nothing explicit about “Dark Age,” but the chorus line “I wouldn’t hurt anyone younger than me” hints at something sinister under the sugar.
The best moments on the album occur when these themes bubble to the top. “Three Simple Words” is noise pop reminiscent of the Flaming Lips at their most listenable. Yearning vocals clash with clapping hands and ray-gun sound effects and, by the end of it, the band has managed to dig into the sappy, brittle dynamic of a tenuously budding relationship. And that’s the optimistic one. Highlight “I Don’t Mind” is a crusher. The song spends its first half as unremarkable pop, sustained by the strength of a gorgeous, contemplative chorus… and then the title line hits, and yep, First Rate People make sure you feel it.
But it’s album closer “Roman Candles” that brings everything home. It’s the best kind of nostalgic meander, as lines “You had the nicest voice” and “You had the nicest car” are swapped back and forth across a gentle instrumental outro. It’s one last hurrah for Everest. One last night time drive, one last romance, one last memory. And then one last reverb, and the album is over.